You know,” [the headmaster] said, “we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?”
“I thought that would be about the number.”
“As you know I’m an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”
“Oh yes,” said Scott-King. “I can and do.”
“I always say you are a much more important man here than I am. One couldn’t conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?”
“Oh yes. Often.”
“What I was going to suggest was – I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?”
“But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead.”
“Then what do you intend to do?”
“If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”
“It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.”
“There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.
—from the "scathing Evelyn Waugh satire entitled “Scott-King’s Modern Europe” wherein the protagonist – a curmudgeonly classics instructor named Scott-King – is called in for a meeting with his school’s headmaster. The headmaster vainly tries to convince Scott-King to get with the times"
There is no better recreation for the mind than the study of the ancient classics. Take any one of them into your hand, be it only for half an hour, and you will feel yourself refreshed, relieved, purified, ennobled, strengthened; just as if you had quenched your thirst at some pure spring. Is this the effect of the old language and its perfect expression, or is it the greatness of the minds whose works remain unharmed and unweakened by the lapse of a thousand years? Perhaps both together. But this I know. If the threatened calamity should ever come, and the ancient languages cease to be taught, a new literature shall arise, of such barbarous, shallow and worthless stuff as never was seen before.
— “On the Study of Latin” by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), published in the second volume of his Parerga und Paralipomena (1851). I transcribed the translation (by T. Bailey Saunders) from Complete Essays of Schopenhauer (New York: Willey Book Company, 1942). Source: James O’Meara (via blackpignotebook)
And the classics are not taught in America, instead we get to enjoy Angelou and Ginsberg, OH BOY!(via tremblingcolors)
“A Summer With Virgil” (Bruce Thornton): From Homer’s Iliad to Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, these five classics make for sublime and delightful beach reading.
“To read the Latin & Greek authors in their original,” Thomas…
What a great article! What a great find!
…But first the rhetoric of decline, and let me read you another piece of gloom:On many sides we hear confident assertions…that the work of Greek and Latin is done—that their day is past. If the extinction of these languages as potent instruments of education is a sacrifice inexorably demanded by the advancement of civilisation, regrets are idle, and we must bow to necessity. But we know from history that not the least of the causes of the fall of great supremacies has been the supine-ness and short-sightedness of their defenders. It is therefore the duty of those who believe…that Greek and Latin may continue to confer in the future, as they have done in the past, priceless benefits upon all higher human education, to inquire whether these causes exist, and how they may be at once removed. For if these studies fall, they fall like Lucifer. We can assuredly hope for no second Renaissance.
Now, as you will have guessed from the rhetorical style, that was not written yesterday (although you could have heard much the same points made yesterday). It is, in fact, by the Cambridge Latinist J.P. Postgate, lamenting the decline of Latin and Greek in 1902…
…All this seems almost preposterous to us; for, in our terms, [Postgate and Jefferson are] voices from the Golden Age of classical study and understanding, the age that we have lost. But they are an important reminder of one of the most important aspects of the symbolic register of the classics: that sense of imminent loss, the terrifying fragility of our connections with distant antiquity (always in danger of rupture), the fear of the barbarians at the gates and that we are simply not up to the preservation of what we value. That is to say, tracts on the decline of the classics are not commentaries upon it, they are debates within it: they are in part the expressions of the loss and longing and the nostalgia that have always tinged classical studies. As so often, creative writers capture this sense rather more acutely than professional classicists. The sense of fading, absence, past glories, and the end of an era…
…The truth is that the classics are by definition in decline; even in what we now call the “Renaissance,” the humanists were not celebrating the “rebirth” of the classics; rather like Harrison’s “trackers,” they were for the most part engaged in a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the fleeting and fragile traces of the classics from oblivion. There has been no generation since at least the second century AD that has imagined that it was fostering the classical tradition better than its predecessors. But there is of course an up-side here. The sense of imminent loss, the perennial fear that we might just be on the verge of losing the classics entirely, is one very important thing that gives them—whether in professional study or creative reengagement—the energy and edginess that I think they still have.
…Same as it ever was.